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'Friar Tuck' Old Catholic Church bishop denies sex assaults

A ‘jolly Friar Tuck’-style former bishop abused his position to sexually assault two women, a jury was told.

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Former bishop Michael Ward

Michael Ward paid ‘inappropriate and unwanted attention’ to the first alleged victim outside Hawksyard Priory in Rugeley where one of her relatives was being ordained into The Old Catholic Church, Wolverhampton Crown Court heard.

She met the defendant for the first time before the ceremony and claimed: “He came to talk to me and mentioned something about me having sad eyes. I was going through a hard time.

“He told me ‘you are loved,’ grabbed my hands and I started talking about a few personal things. I was getting upset.

"He grabbed me close, kissed my cheek and started to kiss my neck. I don’t know how many times he kissed me.

“He was holding me tight. I was scared and wanted to break free.”

One year on

The bishop let go of her when somebody else came out of the church in September 2015, it was said.

Almost a year later on August 6 the 71-year-old former churchman, now retired, allegedly squeezed the backside of the same woman at a gathering to bless a room in the house of her mother during which the latter affectionately touched her bottom.

The woman swung round thinking it was the defendant who was sitting behind her.

She told the jury: “He was laughing and said: ‘You thought it was me.’ I said yes and if you do I will ‘bost’ you.”

She alleged Ward did squeeze her backside while they were in the garden later the same day.

Miss Sharon Bailey, defending, maintained the Bishop only kissed the woman once – on the cheek – to say goodbye after they met outside the church but the alleged victim denied that was ‘all that happened.’

'Nudged, not squeezed'

The lawyer argued that Ward had nudged, not squeezed the woman’s backside, and suggested the complainant may have over reacted.

The alleged victim retorted: “He is a bishop, a man in authority. He had no right putting his hands on my body.”

Her step father conceded in evidence that she was ‘sensitive about being touched in anything like a suggestive way.”

Retired police officer Anthony Ford told the court he was at the blessing in August 2016, when he spotted the defendant touch the woman’s backside while outside in the garden.

He told jurors: “I observed Bishop Michael raise his hand and touch the bottom of one of the ladies standing by the patio set.

'Ashamed and let down'

“There was not, that I observed, any reaction, other than one of the women turned to me and said ‘I bet you don’t behave like that’. I was devastated. I really did not know where to look. I didn’t know what to do. I felt ashamed and let down.

“What I witnessed was not behaviour that was appropriate for a gentleman, let alone a bishop dressed in clerical attire.”

Mr Andrew Wallace, prosecuting, said of the defendant, who is also accused of two sexual assaults on a woman in London last autumn: “He may think of himself as a jovial Friar Tuck, giving friendly hugs and always joking but the reality is different.

"He is someone who likes to take advantage of his position to touch females inappropriately.”

Jurors also heard from a second woman, who claimed Ward sexually assaulted her in her home last year.

The defendant had been helping to arrange a funeral for the woman’s late grandmother when he allegedly ‘fiddled’ with her bra and undid it as he cuddled her.

She said she was left ‘inconsolable’ when Ward allegedly touched her chest while telling a ‘rude’ joke on a separate occasion at her home.

Ward, from Water Lane, Edmonton, London, denies four sex assaults and the case continues.

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